Results tagged ‘ Chris Johnson ’

‘Cat Watch: Pence, Norris having breakout seasons

This is the first of three ‘Cat Watch posts this week, taking a look at how former Tri-City players have fared since leaving Troy. Today, we look at the players who have spent 2011 on an active MLB roster. All stats as of June 1.

After a breakout 2009 campaign in which he made the All-Star team and earned MVP votes, Ben Zobrist suffered a disappointing 2010 season at the plate, batting just .238 with reduced power. He continued to provide versatility for the AL East-winning Rays, however, starting several games at four different positions and seeing time at two others. A member of the 2004 ValleyCats, Zobrist was traded from Houston to Tampa Bay shortly before his 2006 big-league debut. So far this season, he has regained some of his magic at the plate, slugging .477 despite a recent slump with a team-high nine homers, helping the Rays surprisingly stay near the top of baseball’s most competitive division.

Right fielder Hunter Pence, also a 2009 All-Star and a teammate of Zobrist’s on the team that reached the 2004 NY-Penn League championship series, has been remarkably consistent since a breakout rookie campaign. From 2008-10, he hit between .269 and .282 and slugged .461-.472 every season and is on pace to post his best numbers yet. The 28-year-old Pence is batting .319 through 55 games, including a league-high 17 doubles, and leads the Astros with a .509 slugging percentage.

Bud Norris is enjoying a breakout season in his third year in the big show, ranking second in the Astros’ rotation with a 3.76 ERA through the season’s first two months. Already good at missing opponents’ bats, the right-hander has taken his ability to new heights this season – with 73 whiffs in 67 frames, Norris ranks fifth in baseball in strikeouts per inning.

The Astros’ top prospect entering 2010, catcher Jason Castro struggled after a midseason call-up, batting .205 in 195 major-league at-bats after a late-June debut. The bad news continued for Castro early in 2011, as he tore his right ACL in an early-March Spring Training game. He is expected to miss the entire season while recovering from the injury.

Chris Johnson was one of baseball’s most productive rookies last season, posting a .308 batting average with 35 extra-base hits after being recalled from the minors in the middle of June. Unfortunately, his momentum has not carried into 2011, as the third baseman has flirted with the Mendoza Line for much of the year, batting just .216 through 47 games.

After changing locations twice since the end of 2010, Felipe Paulino is trying to stick as a member of the Kansas City Royals. The right-handed pitcher was traded from Houston to Colorado in the offseason, but he was designated for assignment after allowing 12 runs in 14.2 innings out of the bullpen. The Royals claimed Paulino and purchased his contract from Colorado, and the 27-year-old allowed one hit over 4.1 scoreless innings in his first appearance.

Late in the 2010 season, Fernando Abad was a dependable member of the Astros’ bullpen, posting a 2.84 ERA in 19 innings of relief. He has struggled to repeat that performance this season, allowing 13 runs in as many innings and seeing his role reduced after suffering two losses in mid-May.

A two-time member of the ValleyCats (2005-06), former first-round draft pick Brian Bogusevic opened the season as a member of the Astros’ bench. Largely given pinch-hitting duties, the left-handed hitter reached base 10 times in 31 plate appearances before he was optioned to AAA in late May.

Drew Sutton got his first shot in the pros with Cincinnati in 2009 after a six-year minor league career and spent limited time with each of the two Ohio ballclubs last year. After signing with Boston in the offseason and hitting .307 to start the season at Pawtucket, Sutton was called up on May 20 and received regular playing time for the Red Sox soon after. He racked up five hits in his first three games as a starter, all Boston victories.

The very first ValleyCat to reach the majors, Matt Albers, is still in the big leagues, now a part of the Red Sox bullpen. The right-handed reliever, pitching for his third team after spending the last three seasons in Baltimore, has posted a 3.54 ERA in 20.1 innings while fanning 21 opponents through one-third of the season.

Chad Reineke, who spent all of 2010 and the first two months of 2011 in Triple A, made his first major-league appearance in nearly two years on May 31 when he was called up to start in place of Homer Bailey. After retiring the side in order in the first two innings, the righty ran into trouble in the third, allowing four runs in the frame. Reineke walked five batters and allowed five earned runs in 6.1 innings of work, taking the 7-2 loss.

The consensus top prospect in the Astros’ organization, Jordan Lyles, made his big-league debut on May 31. Starting against the Cubs at Minute Maid Park, Lyles held the opponents scoreless through seven innings, mixing four pitches and showing why he was highly regarded in the minor leagues. Though he committed a costly throwing error that led to a three-run rally in the eighth inning, the Astros rallied in the ninth to win the game 7-3. The 20-year-old Lyles became the youngest active player in the major leagues.

Kevin Whitaker

What the Trade Deadline Means to Astros Farm System

Disclaimer: This blog
entry is really long. It is not for the faint of heart. You might want to get
some food, maybe something to drink (coffee, Red Bull), and get comfortable. I
did not expect this to be long, but things happen. Enjoy.

The Astros traded two players right before the deadline that
were pivotal parts of the World Series team in 2005 in Roy Oswalt and Lance
Berkman. Oswalt could have become the team’s all-time leader in wins, but was
traded to Philly before he could do so, and Berkman is one of the best power
hitters that the Astros have ever seen. Almost every Astros fan has mailed this
season in (you’re delusional if you haven’t – it would take an Athletic effort
circa 2002 and then some to save the season) and the front office seems to be
on the same page. Throughout the week the beat writers over at the Houston
Chronicle (Richard Justice, Bernardo Fallas and Zach Levine) have expressed
their gratitude for Oswalt and Berkman. Let’s face it, these are two of the greatest players Houston has ever seen. Berkman hit over 300 bombs
for Houston in his 12 seasons (hit 45 in ’06) and Oswalt had 143 wins over a
span of 10 years (including 20 wins twice). These guys were some of the most
dominant and feared players in the entire Major Leagues in the early part of
the 2000′s. But as much as it hurts, those guys are gone and might not ever be
back (even though Berkman has said he loves playing in Houston) so Ed Wade,
Drayton McClane, and the rest of the Astros front office need to look towards
the future. What does that entail? Oh, I’ll tell you.

Houston got a bevy of
players in these two deals, none of which I expect to land on the ValleyCats ever,
but some could have a huge impact on the Major League club.

The Astros got some quality back from the Phillies in the
trade for Oswalt. First, they got J.A. Happ, a guy that in his first full
season with Philadelphia went 12-4 with a 2.93 ERA, including three complete
games (two shutouts). He was the runner up for the 2009 NL Rookie of the Year
behind Chris Coghlan (who batted .321 in his first stint in the Majors – that’s
unbelievable). Kevin Goldstein of Baseball
Prospectus
says of Happ:

“He
succeeds on deception and location, placing his 88-90 mph fastball in all four
quadrants of the strike zone, adding and subtracting speed to keep hitters off
balance, and altering his release to add sinking or cutting action.”

So in a
word, he has the potential to be filthy (he showed that capability last
season). He does exactly what you want a pitcher to do. He can locate the
fastball, keep it down, has an arsenal of pitches, and can keep hitters off
balance by varying speed on all of his pitches. I’m not saying he is going to
be an ace, even though he could turn into one, but he would be a great number
three behind Brett Myers and Wandy Rodriguez.

Next:
Brett Wallace. Going into this season, Wallace was ranked the 20th
best overall prospect this year by ESPN’s Keith Law (who is one of my favorite
writers of all time) and 27th by Baseball
America
. The Blue Jays traded Michael Taylor, a guy they got from Philly in
the Roy Halladay trade, for Wallace in the offseason, and Wallace did pretty
well playing for the Las Vegas 51′s (batted .301 in 95 games). With this
pickup, it seems like the Astros have their first baseman for the future.
According to KLaw, Ed Wade seems to have made a good decision:

He’s an advanced hitter who has been
adequate in Triple-A this year but hasn’t raked as I would have expected, given
what a good hitter’s park that is. However, he has an outstanding swing and
controls the strike zone well, doesn’t show the platoon split so common in
left-handed hitting prospects and was just 23 in Triple-A. He’s twice as
valuable a prospect as Gose. Despite concerns over his lateral mobility, he’s a
capable first baseman who will hit for average, get on base and have enough
power to be an above-average or better player there.”

Next: Mark
Melancon (I apologize to anyone that is a Yankee fan that listened to my
broadcast the other night – I murdered his name). Melancon is a power righty
that started his career in the New York-Penn League. He closed out the
championship game for the Staten Island Yankees in 2006, and has climbed the
ladder every year since. He doesn’t have the stamina to be a starter or long
reliever, but he could potentially be a great set-up guy to Matt Lindstrom. He
throws hard (92-95 mph) and his curveball is his strikeout pitch. Here’s
Law’s
scouting report
:

Mark Melancon‘s arm action is a train
wreck, but he has power stuff, including a 92 to 94 mph fastball, a power curve
in the low- to mid-80s and a hard change. On the right night, he’ll show three
above-average pitches. He had good control throughout his minor league career
but has seen his Triple-A walk rate nearly triple this season. He’s already had
Tommy John surgery in 2006, and his delivery is not easy on the elbow, so I
wouldn’t be shocked if he got hurt again. But until then he’s a potential
late-game option for Houston, possibly even a cheap closer.”

So with these
trades it looks like the Astros picked up a mid-rotation starter (who could end
up being an ace down the road), the first baseman of the future (who hasn’t
reached his full potential yet), and a back-of-the-bullpen guy (who could be a
closer or burn out his arm). What this means is Houston has finally committed
to getting younger all around and are fully committed to player development, so
guys at any level could have a shot at making the big leagues. Look at everyone
here in Troy. Any of them could turn into the next big thing for the Astros.
It’s all wide open!

The infield is
replaceable with maybe the exception of Brett Wallace and Chris Johnson (a former
ValleyCat). Johnson has been a stud so far this season (.341 in 39 games this
season), so maybe third base is locked up if he can keep this going, but I want
to look at the middle infield.

Second base: Jeff
Keppinger is having a good season this year for the Astros at second (batting
.291), but he’s 30 years old. He is not the future. The second baseman for the
Round Rock Express (AAA affiliate of the Astros) is Matt Kata. Kata is having a
decent season so far in 2010. He is hitting .277 with 20 doubles in 104 games.
Here’s the problem: he’s 32 years old! If he even broke through to the Majors,
he’d play what, one or two good years, maybe? He is not the answer at second for
the Astros.

Corpus Christi has a guy named German Duran. In 64 games for the Hooks this
year he is hitting .284, but his slugging percentage is not much higher. And
again, he’s a little old for someone that is going to be the second baseman of
the future. Typically you would want someone that is going to be around for a
while. He has made it as high as AAA, but did not produce at that level. Let’s
say he has a good season with the Express next season. So he cracks the big
leagues at 28? Not the solution.

Here’s my point:
it looks like the future second baseman is coming from, at the highest,
Single-A (even if they sign DeShields). There is a whole mess of second basemen
in Single-A, including a ton of former ValleyCats (Barry Butera, Andrew
Simunic, and Jose Altuve). Right now Albert Cartwright leads all candidates. He
was just promoted to Corpus Christi after batting .319 with Lancaster JetHawks.
He had 26 doubles, 13 triples, and 10 homers, which are awesome numbers for a
second baseman. He is turning 23 in October, so age is not a factor, but he has
committed 20 errors so far this season (which is the most in the California
league by eight). But if I had to pick a runner-up, it has to be Kik&eacute Hernandez. He is a great hitter, is creeping up for
the league-lead in doubles, is pretty good defensively, and oh yeah, he is only
18 years old! He has so much time and room for improvement. Power develops in
your 20′s, so imagine the numbers he’ll put up if he starts hitting home runs.
Look out!

At this point, if
you are still reading this props to you. Typically blogs are not really wordy.
Like I said earlier, I did not expect this entry to be nearly this long. I got
caught up in the whole thing and ideas kept coming out. I can break down each
position for everyone depending on the reaction of the public. So positive
comments = break down position-by-position.

The Astros are
turning the page on this season and opening a new chapter to hopefully bring
this team back to a World Series. They traded some big contracts away, opening
up the books to sign high draft picks (like DeShields). It might take a while,
but the talent is out there. There is some right here in Troy that could
easily be playing in the Majors in a few years.

Evan Valenti

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